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Rotary Corner: Global Initiative to End Polio Remains a Priority

Rotary has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours to combating the disease

With its vast international grassroots network, Rotary International initiates global and community-based projects to address a wide range of health risks that threaten the well-being of those without access to adequate health care.

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In 1985, Rotary created its flagship program, PolioPlus — an effort to eradicate polio worldwide. At that time, there were 350,000 polio cases in 125 countries.

Polio can strike at any age, but it mainly affects children younger than age 5.

In 1988, Rotary partnered with the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UNICEF to spearhead the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, an unprecedented public/private partnership that has reduced the incidence of polio by more than 99 percent.

In 2009, Rotary was awarded $355 million for polio eradication by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Rotary will match this gift with an additional $200 million over three years.

As of Aug. 1, Rotarians had raised about $141.2 million to meet the goal. This challenge grant is a validation of Rotary’s goal-oriented, business-model approach to polio eradication.

Today, polio has been eliminated from all but four countries — Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan — and fewer than 2,000 cases were reported in 2008.

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Rotary has contributed nearly $800 million and countless hours of volunteer work to help immunize more than 2 billion children throughout the world.

This commitment to end polio represents the largest private-sector support of a global health initiative to date.

— Betsy Munroe is public relations chairwoman for the Rotary Club of Santa Barbara Sunrise, which meets at 7 a.m. Wednesdays at the Santa Barbara Club, 1105 Chapala St.

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